The shifting role of storage networks

Storage networking remains one of the key elements that enterprises will deploy in the next several years in support of application deployments as well as storage and server consolidation, and as part of the larger shift to network storage. But the ongoing economic climate will curtail many enterprises’ plans to deploy these networks in the second half of 2002 and first half of 2003, slowing the growth of the storage networking market for the next several years to one of guarded momentum.

However, customers that already have deployed storage-area networks (SANs) are continuing to expand those deployments as part of their ongoing efforts to consolidate infrastructure and improve business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

For enterprise customers, 2002 is a time of transition and evaluation. New storage networking standards such as iSCSI and Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) will make vendor selection more difficult. Furthermore, the storage networks are becoming increasingly intelligent and robust in order to handle a broader range of customer price requirements, as well as availability. The introduction of these new technologies will change pricing dynamics for storage networking as more vendors compete for customer adoption. In turn, customers will need to make some hard decisions about the best way to move forward with storage network deployments.


Storage networking can no longer be characterized as just Fibre Channel, but as a mix of a number of different networking protocols to meet customers’ different requirements over time. While having such choices will provide customers a lot of new advantages when planning out new storage networks, customers will need to be more educated about their buying decisions and longer-term storage networking strategies. New technologies iSCSI, FCIP, and InfiniBand will offer significant opportunities for customers to select the best network to support business requirements.

Clearly, as more storage becomes network-based, the need will only increase for storage networks that are easy to deploy and manage. It will be incumbent on vendors to make management easier with more advanced tools to assist with setup, monitoring, and automation of storage network management tasks. And, although iSCSI faces a number of significant challenges in 2002 that it must overcome to be successful, it offers the promise of extending storage networks into small and medium-sized businesses that have been passed over in the first wave of SAN adoptions. If iSCSI doesn’t take off as a market, the Yankee Group believes another IP technology will take its place in the contest for customer interest.

Finally, the changing storage networking market does pose new challenges for vendors to deliver on interoperability not only within the same kinds of network protocols but also between multiple network protocols. History has shown that elegant technology does not solve business problems unless it is simpler, more convenient, and more cost-effective than the status quo approach.

Until customers see clear value in doing new technology deployments, iSCSI and FCIP will in the short term be segmented to early adopters willing to take risk. But with Cisco and a number of other large vendors behind iSCSI and FCIP, it is probably only a matter of time before these technologies accelerate into a broader market, especially if Cisco continues to find ways to embrace the existing standards in order to give customers a clear path to new deployments.

Recommendations to Enterprises

Create a strategic plan for your storage network. Since most enterprises have put off significant new technology deployments in 2002, now is the time to look out beyond the 12-18-month window and determine which storage network technologies will make sense to deploy, and when. Part of this plan should include cost-justification analyses that take into consideration not only deployment costs, but also ongoing management. This should include a risk analysis that maps into your business priorities at the application layer, as well as business-continuance and disaster-recovery planning.

Evaluate iSCSI, FCIP, InfiniBand, and IP regarding where they will likely make sense to deploy in your data centers, departments, and remote offices. It is clear that storage networking will soon no longer be delegated to the bastion of the data center, but will be flexibly deployed in various parts of the business. The key question to ask is: What kinds of competitive advantages can be achieved by innovating and deploying these technologies before the larger market does? Does doing so outweigh the risks?

Take vendor promises with a grain of salt. As more vendors have entered the storage network market, the competitive nature of how vendors market themselves will only increase. Make sure you understand the facts about the capabilities of vendors’ products, how these products are managed, what the support channel is, and how they will interoperate with products from other storage network vendors.

Gruener works as an analyst at The Yankee Group